Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 3, 2020
- Coronavirus update
- Russian vaccines
- Results of Russian doctors’ efforts in Palestinian territories
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Aivazian
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with a delegation of the Alternative for Germany party
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the 35th meeting of the Council of Heads of Russian Constituent Entities at the Foreign Ministry
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the 28th assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy
- Nagorno-Karabakh update
- Cases of vandalism against cemeteries and religious sites in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area
- Update on Syria
- The solemn UN General Assembly meeting on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War
- Informal Arria-formula meeting of UNSC members on upcoming anniversary of Normandy format summit in Paris
- Venezuela update
- Russian citizens in US prisons
- NATO 2030 report
- Statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
- The brutal suppression of protests and restrictions of freedom in France
- The UK Foreign Office report on global human rights
- Pirate attack on MV AGISILAOS ship
- Deleting the Baltnews page on Facebook
- Council of the International Organisation for Migration adopts resolution approving Russia’s application for membership
- 50 years of UN Volunteers programme
- Renovation of Russian necropolis in Cyprus
- МестоПамяти.РФ online resource
- Agreement on procedural issues at intra-Afghan talks in Doha
- Crash of Polish President’s plane on April 10, 2010
- NATO military build-up in the Black Sea region
- Jen Psaki as White House press secretary
- Russian alternative to NATO
- Western online resources’ harassment of Russian media outlets
- US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
- Russian citizens detained abroad
- Return of historical Azerbaijani refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh
- Peaceful coexistence of Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh
The spread of the coronavirus around the world remains alarming. Despite a relative improvement in the epidemiological situation last week owing to the lockdown restrictions adopted by some countries, the world has failed to fully stop the spread of the coronavirus.
As of December 3, 2020, global coronavirus cases exceeded 64 million. About 1.5 million people have died of the disease since the start of this year. There are no unanimous forecasts on sanitary developments in the near future. Coronavirus measures are easing on the eve of the New Year, but people in Europe and other parts of the world are urged to strictly abide by sanitary requirements.
Having noted the virus’ uneven spread at varying rates across the globe at his regular briefing last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus urged all countries to step up international efforts on drafting unified approaches to research on countering and treating COVID-19. On December 3-4, 2020, the UN General Assembly will hold its Special Session in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic in New York, which will be an important event in the beginning of this month.
Due to the persisting unfavourable sanitary-epidemiological situation worldwide (relevant information is coming from many countries, including Russians’ favourite tourist destinations), we again strongly urge our citizens not to subject themselves or their relatives and friends to unjustified risks. All recommendations made during previous briefings and published on the ministry’s official website and social media accounts remain relevant.
On December 2, the Sputnik V vaccine was presented on the sidelines of the 31st United Nations General Assembly Special Session, held via videoconference. The presentation aroused great interest among our international partners.
Let me stress that three Russian vaccines against the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, are undergoing clinical trials. The first vaccine is Sputnik V. The second vaccine that has reached the clinical trials stage is EpiVacCorona developed by the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Koltsovo. Another promising option is a vaccine currently under development at the Chumakov Federal Centre for Research and Development of Immune and Biological Products in Moscow.
Meanwhile, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Gamaleya Institute continue active efforts on expanding the Sputnik V vaccine production in order to start mass vaccination in Russia, as well as on a technological transition to launch the production of the Russian vaccine abroad and deliver it to international markets.
At present, the RDIF has orders from over 50 countries for the purchase of over 1.2 billion doses of Sputnik V. Contracts have been inked with leading foreign pharmaceutical companies which provide for the production of over 500 million doses of Sputnik V starting next year. Negotiations are underway with new partners on increasing the vaccine production volumes.
Last week, on November 24, the results became available of the second intermediary analysis of the clinical study which showed a 91.4 percent efficiency of the Sputnik V vaccine on the 28th day following the first injection. The efficiency of the vaccine on the 42nd day is above 95 percent. This technical information is available on the RDIF resources.
Interest in Sputnik V is growing, including among the European Union nations. After delivering vaccine samples to Hungary Russian representatives hold talks with a number of other European partners. On November 27, the RDIF was visited by the French government’s scientific committee on vaccines to discuss cooperation in Sputnik V production and mass vaccination.
On November 16-30, a delegation of Russian doctors from the Pavlov First St Petersburg State Medical University was in Palestine. They had been sent there at the request of the Palestinian side to assist local specialists treating COVID-19 patients.
Our medics worked in ten hospitals in Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, conducted practical sessions, shared experience with medics working at infectious and intensive care units.
The efforts of the Russian specialists were highly appreciated by the Palestinian leadership and medical community. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh expressed deep gratitude to Russia for timely humanitarian support in this tremendously difficult period, when the Palestinian healthcare system is struggling to cope with the spread of the coronavirus infection.
As agreed earlier, Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Aivazian will make a working visit to Moscow on December 7.
During their talks, the foreign ministers of Russia and Armenia will discuss international and regional issues as well as bilateral contacts, focusing on the implementation of the November 9 Statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, first of all the provision of humanitarian aid, the restoration of infrastructure and the unblocking of transport corridors in the region, including in the context of the agreements reached following the November 21 visits by a Russian interagency delegation to Yerevan and Baku.
The ministers will discuss a broad range of issues pertaining to cooperation within the framework of the EAEU, the CSTO and the CIS, and the coordination of positions at the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and other international organisations.
Russia and Armenia maintain allied ties, an intensive political dialogue at the high and highest levels, effective inter-parliamentary contacts and constructive exchanges between their ministries and agencies.
We hope the upcoming talks in Moscow will facilitate the further development of Russian-Armenian allied interaction and will help strengthen security and stability in the South Caucasus.
On December 8, Sergey Lavrov will receive a delegation of the Alternative for Germany party led by Alexander Gauland, co-chair of the party in Bundestag, which will visit Russia at the invitation of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of Russia.
On December 9, Sergey Lavrov will chair, via videoconference, the 35th meeting of the Council of Heads of Russian Constituent Entities at the Foreign Ministry. It will be attended by the heads of Russian regions members of the Council and senior officials of the Presidential Executive Office and federal executive bodies of power. They will discuss ways to promote the youth dimension of international interregional cooperation and to make it more effective, including in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and transitioning to digital communication channels.
This subject is especially important in light of young people’s growing role in society and global politics, which means that young people in Russia should be more actively involved in working towards the country’s foreign policy objectives, including in interregional formats.
On December 3, 10, 16 and 24, the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy will hold an annual assembly, which this year has been organised as a series of videoconferences. The Council is Russia’s oldest NGO, an intellectual club of experts on international affairs and foreign policy. The theme this year is Contrary to the Pandemic: Russia 2020, What Next?
As per tradition, Sergey Lavrov will attend the session on December 10. He will speak about the main goals of Russia’s diplomatic service in the current environment and answer questions from Council members.
The Foreign Ministry assigns great importance to cooperation with the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, which is actively involved in providing intellectual support for Russia’s foreign policy activities.
Efforts to normalise the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh continued last week. No ceasefire violations were recorded. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin spoke on the phone with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan on November 30; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked to his Armenian counterpart, Ara Aivazian on November 28. During these contacts, the parties discussed the modalities of Russian peacekeepers’ operation, further steps to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, and measures to preserve religious and cultural sites.
President Vladimir Putin commented on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh during an online session of the CSTO Collective Security Council; Sergey Lavrov spoke about it at a news conference following a remote meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers. This information is available on the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry websites.
Russian peacekeepers continued their round-the-clock monitoring of the area and control over the observance of the ceasefire. They helped create the conditions for the return of refugees and ensured civilian vehicles’ safety and delivery of food, various goods, and repair teams dispatched to restore infrastructure facilities, and continued demining the area.
I would like to underscore that the search for missing servicemen and bodies is a very sensitive matter in Armenian and Azerbaijani societies; the Russian peacekeeping mission command is closely supervising the process. Our peacekeepers are performing search missions using up-to-date technology.
The main humanitarian tasks in Nagorno-Karabakh have been solved. We are in close contact with the relevant Armenian and Azerbaijani agencies on this score.
The Response Centre has stepped up its efforts to assist refugees returning to their places of former residence. The number of people who have returned home since November 14 is approaching 30,000, with 1,000-2,000 arriving every day. Humanitarian deliveries have also begun.
We are working together with interested international bodies. The International Committee of the Red Cross operates in the region. An integrated UN assessment mission is being prepared for dispatch.
UNESCO experts will be able to answer all questions about the safety and condition of Christian and Muslim shrines in the region.
In this regard, we support UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay’s intention to send a mission to the conflict region, which she confirmed in a telephone conversation with Sergey Lavrov on November 20, 2020.
We hope that the mission, prepared in cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan and involving UNESCO, reputable international NGOs preserving and protecting monuments, will soon be able to arrive at the site and give an objective assessment of the situation.
On November 30, the fourth session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee group on drafting a new Constitution began in Geneva. In line with the agreements reached between representatives of Syrian authorities and opposition forces earlier, the parties are discussing national principles and foundations.
Together with our partners in the Astana format, Russia is exerting consistent efforts to encourage the Syrian parties to conduct constructive dialogue and arrive at a shared vision of Syria’s future state system. The continued work of the Constitutional Committee confirms the effectiveness of our comprehensive efforts to facilitate the settlement of the Syrian crisis.
We hope that the Syrians will be able to make headway in their discussions of the Constitution. We believe that this meets the goal of achieving final and long-term stabilisation in Syria in full conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
The Russian-Turkish agreements on stabilising the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone are being implemented. Turkish service personnel continue to scale down their presence in the territories that have been transferred under the jurisdiction of Syrian government forces. The evacuation of the fourth control and observation outpost, deployed east of Saraqib, was completed on November 26.
Hostilities have ceased in most Syrian regions. However, a tense situation persists in the Idlib zone. On November 26, units of the Russian Aerospace Forces hit terrorist strongholds in response to provocations by the militants operating there.
ISIS militants are staging more frequent attacks in eastern Syria. Syrian government forces clashed with terrorist gangs in the Homs Governorate on November 25, and on the border of the Raqqa, Homs and Hama governorates on November 28.
On December 1, 2020, the UN General Assembly held a special solemn meeting in New York in commemoration of all victims to the Second World War, held in line with its Resolution 75/5 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the End of the Second World War. This event was made possible by an initiative of the Russian Federation together with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and China to continue the current tradition and officially mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War every five years at the UN.
This initiative met with support in all parts of the world, and 43 states have co-authored the idea of holding this meeting.
The special solemn meeting of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly was intended to become a good opportunity for pooling the efforts of all concerned countries in order to prevent the falsification of history and the revision of the Second World War’s results. Most statements made during the meeting reinforced this thesis.
Statements by four regional groups, including African states, Asia Pacific states, Latin America and the Caribbean, West European and other states, noted the contribution of each region of the world to achieving a common Victory and underscored the importance of the end of the Second World War for the establishment of the UN. The statements also noted that there was no alternative for international cooperation and multilateral concepts in a modern world. At the same time, we noted that the group of East European states made no joint statement on the matter.
Vasily Nebenzya, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, spoke on behalf of the group of the first ten co-authors. A representative of Tajikistan read out a statement by the foreign ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation member states. Representatives of Serbia, India, Syria, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, South Africa, Belarus, Israel and Pakistan also made their statements.
All speakers noted that it is vitally important to remember the lessons of that terrible war and to cherish the memory of the deceased. They condemned deliberate attempts to erase the historical memory of nations by rewriting history and destroying monuments in honour of those who fought on the side of the Anti-Hitler Coalition. They called the Victory over Nazism a crucial turning point in the history of humankind because it served as a vantage point for establishing the UN and creating a modern system of international relations and the decolonisation process. Today 193 independent states have the status of UN members.
Against this background, we regret the position of the European Union, which once again tried to state that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were equally responsible for unleashing the Second World War. An EU representative said that Victory over Nazism did not bring freedom to European countries; instead it served as the beginning of a new occupation, the continent’s painful division into two parts, and crimes against humanity.
The remarks by Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN were nothing but blasphemous and insulting. He went as far as to say that Ukrainians were among the first victims of that war when German forces entered Western Ukraine from the west and Soviet troops from the east. He claimed that Soviet forces killed thousands of Ukrainians during occupation and even more as they retreated from Ukraine in 1941. One gets the impression that Kiev’s representative mixed up the venues for his speech.
As the UN General Assembly’s solemn meeting shows, the perception of the 1945 Victory as a shared value for all of humanity has great significance for uniting the international community in order to counter modern challenges and threats, with the UN’s central role, on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
On December 2, a virtual informal Arria-formula meeting of UN Security Council members was held in the context of the upcoming anniversary of the Normandy format summit in Paris, which was attended by Donetsk and Lugansk republics’ representatives.
Preparations for the meeting resembled a crime story. Although we informed our Normandy format partners, Germany and France, well in advance that the meeting would analyse the implementation of the 2015 Minsk Package of Measures, Berlin and Paris tried to prevent it from the start. The main thing they wanted to prevent was giving the floor to Donetsk and Lugansk representatives.
They tried to convince Russia to limit the participants to members of the Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France). We replied that that format was only designed to encourage the parties of the internal Ukrainian conflict (Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk) to implement the Minsk agreements as the only basis for a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine, and that this goal cannot be achieved without a direct dialogue between them. We sent an invitation to the Ukrainian delegation but did not receive any reply.
The situation even reached the point where our Western partners prohibited the streaming of the event via the UN’s network resources, although this is standard practice for Arria-formula events. And this has been done by countries that declare the freedom of speech and the media, pluralism and the importance of respecting even diverging views. These moves are proof of their unwillingness to show the true picture of the developments in Donbass. Are you afraid that the people in your countries whom you have been brainwashing for several years to believe your tall stories about the developments in eastern Ukraine will find out the truth? We will put an end to your fears: we will post a video of that meeting on our own resources and make it available to everyone. These moves have compromised Berlin and Paris as intermediaries in the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and have exposed their striving to cover up for the Kiev authorities.
Despite this non-constructive stand, the event which Russia organised has not been boycotted. The other members of the UN Security Council took an active part in the discussion, along with other states such as Algeria, Belarus, Egypt, India, Morocco, Syria, Vanuatu, Venezuela and Uzbekistan. Online interest in the event was considerable: at least 20,000 people watched the network of the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.
It was the first time that Donetsk and Lugansk representatives spoke at the UN in New York. The reports were presented by Natalia Nikonorova and Vladislav Deinego, representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the Minsk Contact Group. The event was also attended by Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev Centre of Political Studies and Conflictology. I would like to repeat that we sent an official invitation to the Ukrainian side. They refused to attend, and they missed a lot.
The participants in the Arria-formula meeting highlighted the history of the Donbass residents’ fruitless attempts to ensure respect for their basic political, cultural and humanitarian rights and exposed the false nature of Kiev’s claims of implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. They made special mention of the damage done by Ukrainian military personnel to the people and civilian infrastructure in Donbass. It was for the first time that much of that was said at the UN. It is regrettable that the representatives of the countries that claim to be above all concerned about the people who live in these regions did not listen to that first-hand information. The speakers pointed out that Kiev had not implemented the majority of the decisions made at the Paris summit. We hope that Donbass representatives will be able to take an active part in other discussions held at multilateral venues.
You can continue to try to “pull out the plug” so as to stop live streaming and prevent people from presenting their views. We will find other adapters.
On December 6, Venezuela will hold elections to the country’s parliament, the National Assembly. The vote is largely expected to become the key to resolving the current controversy in Venezuelan society.
The people in Venezuela are tired of political provocations and attempted coups d'etat. They strongly support resolving the crisis through a constitutional electoral process. It is important that a wide range of political forces are actively involved in it – more than 14,000 candidates from 107 parties and movements are competing for seats on the National Assembly, and 98 of them are opposition candidates. We hope that the newly elected parliament will become a platform for a constructive dialogue about the country's future.
In this situation, it is sad to hear calls to boycott the forthcoming vote or refuse to recognise the results. Elections in Venezuela are a political reality, which is pointless to ignore. Those who are trying to disrupt the legitimate electoral process are interested in prolonging the instability and prolonging the failed ‘Juan Guaidó project.’
We believe that elections are the most effective democratic way of settling the differences in Venezuela. The Russian Federation will send a group of high-ranking observers to monitor the electoral process; they will produce objective assessments of the course and results of the voting based on their observations.
We call on all countries interested in internal reconciliation in Venezuela to avoid compromising the right of Venezuelans to elect their representatives to the National Assembly and to independently determine the path for their country’s further development.
We continue to closely monitor the situation regarding Russian citizens imprisoned in the United States. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Russians kept in that country’s prisons or under investigation are at great risk of being infected. Worse still, the state of the medical system in the US penitentiary institutions raises serious concerns, as does that system’s ability to provide Russian citizens with all the care they might need.
One eloquent example is Konstantin Yaroshenko. As a reminder, in May 2010, he was captured by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in Liberia, where he was tortured, then illegally transported to the United States and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The charges against him were based entirely on the testimony of dummy agents of the US secret services.
For 10 years, the American authorities have been extremely dismissive with regard to his health issues. Although he had grave conditions, partly caused by torture during the first brutal interrogations in Liberia, he was denied even the most basic medical assistance until the Russian Embassy in Washington made several repeated requests; most of the requests for major examinations or complex medical procedures are still unanswered.
The situation around another Russian citizen, Roman Seleznev, also causes deep concern. Despite his serious health problems, the prison authorities deny him the necessary medical care. They also refuse to transfer him to another penitentiary institution where he could get a comprehensive medical check.
Another example is Viktor Bout now serving a 25-year sentence in the US, convicted on dubious charges. He occasionally gets put in a special higher security block for no reason at all.
The above shows that the US authorities use a harsh and discriminatory approach towards Russian citizens in US prisons. We demand that they be treated appropriately and fairly.
For our part, we will continue to take all possible steps to protect their rights and legitimate interests.
We have taken note of the continued NATO deliberations about what to do with Russia. This is the subject of a considerable part of the NATO 2030 Expert Group’s Report prepared at the request of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and presented at a meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on December 1-2. According to the NATO leadership, the report sets out the bloc’s development path for the next decade and most likely will be used to prepare its new strategic concept.
Even a cursory look at the report shows that the experts (reflection group) did not make use of the opportunities available to objectively assess the prerequisites for the current crisis in Russia-NATO relations or the role played by the bloc’s short-sighted policy.
The main idea of the report is simple and far from new: Russia will most likely remain the main military threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia has again been accused of deploying more forces in the NATO neighbourhood. But maps showing the military bases of NATO, and above all the United States, are available worldwide, not only in shops but also online. Just take a look at who is encircling who. The report accuses Russia of pursuing the wrong policy and of engaging in “intimidatory military operations in the immediate vicinity of NATO.” If those who have no notion of geography read this they may believe that Russia is located far away from NATO, has been trying to encircle the bloc and periodically approaches its borders to engage in “intimidatory operations.” Russia has been accused of conducting a hybrid campaign to undermine the Allies’ sovereignty, including offensive cyber-attacks, state-sanctioned assassinations and poisonings – using chemical weapons, political coercion and other methods. These are the conclusions of NATO’s experts.
An overview of history in the report is puzzling: the bloc allegedly attempted to build a meaningful partnership with Russia after the end of the Cold War and to involve it in the creation of a common architecture of Euro-Atlantic security, which Russia allegedly did not accept. Did this really happen? We would like to remind everyone that the reality is exactly the opposite: it was the bloc that routinely rejected or disregarded numerous Russian initiatives for finding ways to overcome the crisis, bring down tension and create a really equal system of European and Euro-Atlantic security.
According to NATO experts, Russia’s “assertive activity” is a permanent obstacle to comprehensive bilateral interaction, which NATO allegedly would like very much to develop. Based on this conclusion, the experts recommend that “NATO should continue the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue” towards Russia. It appears that the experts could have used a more interesting formula, for example, “a dialogue of deterrence” or “the deterrence of dialogue.” Why not? Anything goes to build up NATO unity against the mythical Russian threat.
The Russia-NATO Council is recommended to continue to act as “the main platform to deliver political messages to Russia,” primarily on the Ukrainian conflict in the settlement of which NATO has no role at all. It is notable that the bloc has been advised to negotiate from a position of strength when dealing with Russia. This approach contradicts the very idea of the Council. According to the 2002 Rome Declaration, the Council was designed as a forum where “NATO member states and Russia will work as equal partners” and where the members will “act in their national capacities” rather than team up against Russia. It is very important that the Council has produced practical results, launching a number of useful projects in counterterrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and means of their delivery, and the Afghan drug threat. But all of this positive experience was undone by a unilateral decision in 2014, and it was not Russia but NATO who did this.
It is strange that the NATO experts have not provided a single practical formula for overcoming the current crisis. Instead of developing mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia, they think that “NATO should remain open to discussing peaceful coexistence.” In other words, these experts are conditioning NATO to maintain the status quo for at least another decade.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has made one of his most striking statements at a news conference following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs. He said that Russian troops in Transnistria amount to a violation of the territorial integrity of Moldova.
We thought that NATO had reliable sources of information “in the NATO neighbourhood,” as Mr Stoltenberg put it, who would tell him about the Russian-Moldovan agreements to this effect. It appears that he doesn’t have such sources. Well, we can refresh his memory.
The Russian troops have been deployed in the region as part of the joint peacekeeping forces on legal grounds for protection of ammunition depots in the village of Kolbasna. The peacekeeping operation, which began on the Dniester 28 years ago, has been effectively maintaining peace and stability in the region. NATO experts should have analysed the related documents.
Russia is fully committed to implementing the mandate of its troops and the peacekeeping operation in Transnistria. We also believe that this is an issue of bilateral Russian-Moldovan relations.
We would like to recommend the NATO Secretary General to pay more attention to the members of his bloc, primarily the United States and its illegal presence in Syria.
Although the French authorities traditionally declare the protection of human rights as a key state policy priority, France has been increasingly restricting civil rights and freedoms citing national security interests as of late.
Discussions about police brutality are raging among the French public, in particular, about the brutal suppression of protests that often escalate into clashes with the police. According to various estimates, police officers fired 14,000 rubber bullets at protesters during the 2018-2019 Yellow Vests protests. About 2,500 people were seriously injured. Police detained over 12,000 people, most of whom were incarcerated. French courts passed some 2,000 guilty verdicts, with 40 percent of them stipulating prison terms.
The police often target media representatives. Russian journalists received injuries while covering the protests. According to some French journalist associations, about 200 various acts of discrimination were recorded in 2019, including physical injury, intimidation and work bans by police officers, gendarmes and judges.
In the context of growing crime rates and the expanding Islamist threat, members of the French National Assembly passed the Global Security Bill in the first reading on November 24, 2020.
The Article 24 of the bill stipulates a 12-month prison sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros for distributing the image of a face or any other element identifying a police officer or a member of the National Gendarmerie involved in a police operation, with the intent of damaging the physical or psychological immunity of a law enforcement officer. This article has caused the greatest public outcry.
French civil society and media community have demonstrated their opinion on such initiatives. Numerous rallies opposing the bill were held around France and were marked by brutal clashes with police officers. This highlighted that a large part of society is adamantly opposed to the line of President Emmanuel Macron’s administration to restrict the freedom of information. A large-scale nationwide discussion forced the authorities to request that the legislators conduct an additional review of the bill.
In all, 46,000 protesters took to the streets in Paris, while nationwide their number totalled 133,000. The police used force and tear gas to disperse the protesters. According to the French Interior Ministry, hundreds of people, including 98 police officers, received injuries in the clashes, and 81 protesters were detained.
An update on the annual report on global human rights published recently by the Foreign Office came to our attention.
As is customary, the updated version comes with a patronising slant with regard to Russia and other countries, which is traditional for London. Meanwhile, the complaints with regard to our country remain unchanged across the revisions and include freedom of expression, the LGBT community, the situation in Crimea, etc. We have provided exhaustive comments on these matters and regularly conduct awareness activities and provide clarifications that London refuses to notice.
We would like to remind the British Foreign Office that Great Britain’s reputation leaves much to be desired when it comes to claiming the role of a global human rights advocate. Faultlessly following the colonial traditions, crimes committed by British soldiers during the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns are being covered up en masse; facts concerning the illegal collection of personal data of the British citizens by the British special services are coming to the surface; information about torture by the British special services or with their involvement is rampant, and police violence has become commonplace. There are examples galore. These and other glaring facts of human rights violations in Great Britain have been repeatedly noted by international governmental and non-governmental organisations, but to no avail. However, the Foreign Office keeps reviewing the state of affairs in other countries nonetheless.
The situation with Julian Assange alone has stripped London of the right to speak about human rights or freedom of speech in other parts of the world.
The politicisation of human rights in international affairs is not new, but it is regularly used by some states in an attempt to exert pressure on other countries. The fact that London, instead of addressing long-standing problems in the UK, is trying to teach others has become a British tradition.
Such country reviews are still used by their compilers solely in order to advance their own political agenda that has little to do with human rights.
In the early hours of November 30, MV AGISILAOS, a ship owned by Greek Capital Ship Management Corp, en route from the Republic of Congo to the Togolese Republic, was attacked by pirates 75 nautical miles from the port of Lome (Togo).
Four crew members were kidnapped, including a Russian citizen. The pirates disappeared and are not in touch with the ship owner.
The Russian Embassy in Benin and Togo is making every effort in order to free the Russian sailor promptly and safely and maintains constant contact with the Togolese authorities and law enforcement agencies, as well as the ship owner.
We would like to once again remind our fellow citizens employed by foreign ship owners that navigation in the Gulf of Guinea is highly dangerous to the life and health of crew members.
Today it became known about the deletion of the Baltnews page on Facebook, Pribaltika Po-Russki (The Baltics in Russian), which covered events in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Facebook administrators have previously repeatedly blocked the pages of the Baltnews news agency.
This is far from the first case of blocking the Russian media’s content in social networks, as we have repeatedly informed you. Facebook, Twitter and Google restricted access to materials from about twenty Russian media outlets, not to mention private users. This includes RIA Novosti, RT, Sputnik and the Rossiya 1 TV channel. The YouTube administrators have blacklisted about 200 Russian-language channels in recent years.
The Baltic countries themselves are trying to restrict access to content produced in Russia. The most resonant incident in recent years was the ban on broadcasting of RT’s seven TV channels in June this year in Latvia, and then, in July, in Lithuania and Estonia.
We have expressed many times our opinion on the absolutely politicised attitude of the Baltic states’ authorities to the broadcasting of Russian and Russian-language media in the region. We see this as a desire to cleanse the information space from points of view alternative to the Western mainstream.
The Russophobic part of the Baltic elite has found a way to put pressure on the largest social media platform. It is a pity that the “transatlantic bond” is working to play up to such biased undemocratic initiatives.
We hope that the day will come when the leadership of social networks will remember the principles of freedom of speech and begin to be guided by them instead of blindly pandering to the ambitions of the Russophobic political establishment. This hope is underpinned by our practical steps and actions. Unfortunately, our moves are caused by the unconstructive and biased approach displayed by Western regulators and online platforms. This approach is contrary to everything that the countries have agreed on over the past decades. We cannot just wait for our media to be blocked and us to be deprived of the opportunity to respond to attacks against our country and to express our point of view on events in the world.
The Russian Federation has been collaborating with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as an observer since 1992. This UN-associated body has 173 member states, and is the largest intergovernmental agency addressing migration issues. We highly appreciate IOM’s multifaceted activities and its accumulated hands-on experience in solving various tasks on the migration agenda.
The growing relevance of migration problems for our country has prompted Russia to pursue a goal to obtain full membership. After President of Russia Vladimir Putin issued an instruction on this score in August 2020, the concerned government agencies, primarily the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Ministry, have been working comprehensively to bring about our country’s accession to the organisation.
On November 24, 2020, IOM Council at its 111th session passed a resolution approving Russia’s application for membership. This decision is an important step towards Russia obtaining the full member status.
We have noted that, as Russia’s application was being reviewed, the Ukrainian delegation took an unprecedented step and, for the first time in the history of IOM, proposed a vote on a new member’s admission. In an attempt to politicise the discussion, our Ukrainian partners in fact got what they deserved: the idea failed. The voting results showed as much – 112 countries supported the resolution and only two voted it down (Georgia and Ukraine). I would say it was quite a success of Kiev’s foreign policy. Congratulations, colleagues. Two more states abstained – Honduras and the United States. We express our gratitude to all states that supported Russia’s entry.
At present, with the coordinating role of the Ministry of the Interior as the steering agency, Russia is completing the procedures necessary for the adoption of the IOM Charter and paying its annual mandatory contribution. Russia will become a full member as soon as it officially notifies the IOM Director General about the completion of all the procedures.
Membership of the International Organisation for Migration will enable Russia to more widely use its platform to find the best solutions to internal migration challenges and to build up constructive international cooperation on migration issues.
On December 7, the United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) marks its 50th anniversary. It was established in 1970 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly and is administered by the UN Development Programme.
UNV mission is to mobilise volunteers to serve in UN agencies, both in development programmes, peacekeeping operations, and human rights. Volunteers help to implement projects focused on strengthening peace and security, addressing climate change, providing basic services to the population, including primary healthcare, combating HIV/AIDS, developing education, and reducing poverty.
In July 2018, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the UN Volunteers reached an agreement on a full funding of Russian volunteers’ work with UN agencies. Under this agreement, Russian volunteers are annually sent to country offices of UN operational programmes, funds and specialised agencies, on a competitive basis, as well as to the offices of the UN Resident Coordinators to engage in peace processes, creating partnerships in the social sphere, contributing to environment protection, expanding business opportunities for women, human rights, etc.
The Russian Foreign Ministry in close cooperation with the Russian Defence Ministry and other federal agencies is doing much to preserve the truth about the heroism of Russian (Soviet) soldiers. The effort includes searching for unaccounted graves and conducting measures to immortalise those fallen.
In 2007, at the site of the British military cemetery in Polemidia near Limassol, Cyprus, deserted Russian graves dating back to the Civil War of 1918-1922 were found. There lie 12 former citizens of the Russian Empire, among them two generals, a colonel and nine officers.
By agreement with the British administration of the cemetery, our compatriots, with assistance from the Russian Embassy in Nicosia and the Rossotrudnichestvo representative office, conducted improvement works at the Russian necropolis. They found out the names and military titles of the buried officers, installed Russian Orthodox crosses on their graves and erected a memorial stele. It was possible to trace the fate of Lieutenant General Mikhail Butchik, a hero of the First World War and a holder of the Gold Weapon of the Order of St George. This year, the Russian Embassy in Cyprus and the military attaché office held restoration works at some of tombstones. On feast days, Russian priests hold prayer services there.
We would like to thank our compatriots living in Cyprus for this job.
In accordance with the Agreement on Cooperation between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Military-Historical Society signed on February 14, 2018, Russian diplomatic missions and consular services all over the world are contributing to the information content of the МестоПамяти.РФ (CommemorationSite.RF) website. Our foreign missions in the Baltic countries are also engaged in this effort in close cooperation with our compatriots and representatives of search teams.
Estonia was among the first countries that joined the platform. The majority of Soviet military-memorial landmarks were plotted on the interactive map in 2018. The information update, first of all, related to the current state of the objects, is conducted in due course following routine inspections.
The information about Soviet military burials, memorials and monuments located in Lithuania appeared on the website in 2019. The portal is updated whenever required. The monument to the Soviet soldier-liberator near Alytus that was dismantled by decision of the Lithuanian authorities in 2018, was also marked accordingly.
Latvia joined the project in 2020. Earlier it used another online resource. Complete information about 112 Soviet burials has been published, including links to the names of the buried servicemen. The information about the monument to Soviet heroes-submariners that was dismantled in Riga in October 2019 is also posted on the website.
As for the desecration of the Soviet war memorial in Obeliai, Lithuania, our diplomatic mission promptly responded to these actions, and the municipal authorities have already fixed the monument, while the police are conducting an investigation.
We note with satisfaction that the contact groups of the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban reached agreement on procedural issues at the inter-Afghan talks in Doha, as stated by representatives of both sides. Unfortunately, this preparatory work took almost three months.
We urge the delegations of the Afghan Government and the Taliban to complete all preliminary stages of negotiations as soon as possible and to move on to the direct intra-Afghan dialogue on a peaceful settlement.
Question: On November 27, in the 10.04.2010 Fakty television programme on Poland’s Republika TV, Antoni Macierewicz, chair of the so-called Smolensk sub-commission, which is reinvestigating the Polish president’s airplane crash on April 10, 2010, said, with regard to a respective request from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, that there is no recording or transcript of the telephone conversation that President of Poland Lech Kaczynski had, right before the crash, with his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the current leader of the ruling Law and Justice party. What would be your comment on this information?
Maria Zakharova: This is very strange. Comments in the media cannot serve as a response to Russia’s request. Let me remind you that there was an official request. A month ago, Gazeta Wyborcza published an interview with former Polish judge Wojciech Laczewski that stated that the secret recording does exist. Considering the extreme importance of this newly revealed information, the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office asked its Polish colleagues to provide a copy of the document as a request for legal assistance. We expect that Warsaw will take all measures to find this recording or transcript that could substantially clarify the circumstances of the crash. We are waiting for an official response from the National Public Prosecutor’s Office of Poland.
Question: The Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Alliance Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO will continue to expand its military presence in the Black Sea region in response to the reinforcement of Russia’s military units in Crimea. How will Moscow respond?
Maria Zakharova: The alliance’s foreign ministers discussed further expansion of NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region at their meeting on December 1-2. Implementation of the Black Sea package of measures, adopted in April 2019, to support Georgia and Ukraine pursuant to the bloc’s earlier adopted policy of “containing” Russia in the region, will continue.
The alliance is expanding its area of activity on the Black Sea and engaging countries from outside the region into this activity. NATO countries’ naval ships have been increasingly more often visiting Black Sea ports of their allies and partners, and their reconnaissance aircraft and drones have been increasingly spotted flying near the Russian border. The infrastructure in Bulgaria and Romania are being upgraded; offensive weapons are being deployed on their territories; during military exercises, personnel are practicing scenarios that include, among other, strikes on the Russian territory by US B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
NATO’s partners are involving Ukraine and Georgia in their activity and training them to “confront” Russia, through joint drills and exercises.
This activity is causing our serious concerns. We have to take into consideration the fact that the alliance and its member states are building their military capacity, and have to respond accordingly.
The Black Sea region already has experience in maintaining security using the littoral states’ resources. The appearance of a new actor here, which clearly did not come with the best intentions, undermines regional stability and drives a wedge between the neighbouring countries.
Question: In 2018, you said that it was nice to work with Jen Psaki as a person. What kind of relationship do you expect with Jen Psaki as Joe Biden’s White House press secretary?
Maria Zakharova: I expect her relationship with Dmitry Peskov rather than myself.
Question: Collective security has been shaken. Sadly, we are witnessing drastic geopolitical upheavals in various parts of the world. The most recent example is Nagorno-Karabakh. The language of diplomacy is thinning away, while more and more destructive and belligerent rhetoric prevails. International agreements are being broken. Russia, as the only country calling for political and diplomatic dialogue, gives some hope for peace and global security. Is it possible to consider an idea or project to create a Russian alternative to NATO to ensure security in the post-Soviet countries and in Europe?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly commented on this topic. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials spoke about this. We have never been the ideologists of any regional or international bloc formats where members ally against someone else. We have proposed and still have initiatives to create regional and international organisations aimed at cooperation, interaction, jointly addressing current security problems (new challenges and threats, drug trafficking, organised crime, etc.). We have initiated a few such organisations and are actively engaged there. Those are the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS.
We are active in global forums such as the G20. But first and foremost, we are engaged in the UN, which is a universal organisation aimed at addressing and responding to the challenges facing the whole world.
As for the NATO experience, I would like to recall French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement about “the brain death of NATO.” That, from a member state’s head, seriously makes one wonder whether that experience really needs to be replicated.
Question: We followed with great attention the news conference at the RIA Novosti press centre on December 1 on how transnational online information corporations such as Google, Facebook and others harass the Russian media.
Your remarks and statements by editors of major Russian federal media show that these online giants intend to continue ignoring the requirements of Russian laws. The YouTube channels of our Natsionalny Kurs newspaper and National Liberation Movement resources are being heavily censored as well.
Are there any grounds for the Russian executive authorities to impose sanctions on these foreign corporations, their founders and top managers who ignore the laws of the Russian Federation? Is Russia taking any such steps?
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your interest in that event. We share your concern over the arbitrary actions by global, primarily American digital platforms in relation to the Russian media. I always stress that the Russian media are not the only ones subjected to this policy. I have mentioned Chinese journalists who are also being attacked in both conventional and innovative media.
In recent months, a large number of Russian accounts have been blocked, and some Russian content has been deleted in a system-wide action, which is flagrant censorship. We can see that the discriminatory policies pursued by social media market monopolists have an absolutely clear political agenda aimed at advancing the US government’s foreign policy goal to oust from the market any sources of information that provide an alternative perspective on international events and offer competition to mainstream Western media.
This kind of discrimination is contrary to international legal standards and infringes on the rights of the Russian media audience from among our citizens. Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) has reasonably pointed out that such censorship at internet platforms violates Russian citizens’ right to unimpeded access to information guaranteed by Article 29 of the Russian Constitution.
We regularly and thoroughly cover all illegal incidents involving our media outlets publicly, and raise this issue at international platforms such as the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. In July, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent personal messages to the heads of leading international organisations with detailed accounts of the Baltic countries violating the fundamental principles of freedom of speech in relation to the Russian media and an urgent request to take action.
As regards legal mechanisms, interagency work now continues on a draft federal law On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in relation to additional measures to counter threats to national security. The bill envisages, among other things, new enforcement actions against information resources implicated in violating fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as their owners, such as issuance of warnings, restricted access to technical communication systems, heavy fines, and much more.
I really would not like this part of my comment to sound off and clash with the general context. Our country was not the one that started this purposeful and premeditated spree to restrict media operation in the global information landscape. For a long time, for years, we had endured a discriminatory attitude towards our journalists and our media until we just realised at some point that no statements or whistle-blowing were working and that only mirrored, reciprocal, symmetrical action would get the message across. They would not understand unless they are treated the same way they treat us. We did not initiate this approach. When mainstream Western media realised that in many ways they could not compete, they were not winning if the competition was based on equality and the same rules for all, at that moment those who stood behind the Western mainstream entered the fray making extremely politicised discriminatory moves against our media.
Question: The US has announced that after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan there will still be several US bases left and they will be very active in Afghanistan. How do you regard this?
Maria Zakharova: Our view remains the same. First: there is sometimes an enormous gap between the US’s statements and practical steps. Speaking about statements, we always take them into account, clarify them with our US colleagues, but still focus on practical steps. When this happens, we will be able to comment on this.
Second, US troops are not deployed in Afghanistan at their own wishes. They were sent there under the UN Security Council mandate. What have they been doing there all these years? What successes (and I want to say it without sarcasm) have they achieved there? The situation remains difficult in Afghanistan: there were so many victims, including among civilians, and so many crimes were revealed during the presence of the Western contingent there that it is no laughing matter.
Anyway, after receiving the UN Security Council mandate, the United States must come and report on the work it has done. We constantly speak about this, in public, by answering your questions, and directly during the meetings and consultations at the UN Security Council. This is how the work should be done. When issuing a certain license for operations based on international law, the international community has the right to know what has been done.
Question: Today you have paid considerable attention to Russian citizens arrested in the United States. Are there any updates on people detained in other countries, such as Maria Lazareva in Kuwait? Perhaps there are others in other states. What is their fate, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic?
Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, there are a lot of Russians who are under investigation abroad, in prisons, sentenced to various terms, or in respect of which proceedings are pending. As for Maria Lazareva, our embassy in Kuwait and the Foreign Ministry are working to help her, staying in touch with her family, lawyers and the local authorities.
If you need more details, I am ready to present them. It is impossible to comment on every case separately. Our consulate service in Moscow and employees in consulate departments of our embassies and consular missions in various countries deal with these issues. Russian citizens receive all the necessary assistance: information, consultations, the observance of their rights is monitored. We provide assistance in communicating with their families, searching for lawyers in the framework of current legislation and establishing contacts with the local side, as well as assistance in preparing documents. A lot of work is being done.
Recently there has been a large interview about the fate of Russian sailors with the MASH telegram channel. TV Rain also asked about this at the briefing on November 19. Please send your questions on specific persons or groups and we will try to clarify them.
Question: How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the situation with the return of the so-called historical Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons, expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s? Have discussions on the mechanism of their return to Nagorno-Karabakh already begun?
Maria Zakharova: I spoke in detail about the work that is being carried out at the moment. If you are talking about plans and not about a specific situation “on the ground,” then this is a question for the Azerbaijani side. For my part, I can only clarify with the experts if we have additional information.
Question: Russia has opened the way to peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a lot has already been said about this. Russia and Azerbaijan are also saying these words and like to cite as an example the coexistence of the two peoples in the past in different historical periods, I mean Azerbaijanis and Armenians, including in Soviet times. You know very well that there were good examples of coexistence, when in Baku people were not divided into nationalities. In your opinion, what is the key to the success of the peaceful coexistence of the two peoples and their interaction? How can this historical stress be overcome?
Maria Zakharova: Specialists – historians, ethnographers, culturologists, sociologists, and political experts – should talk about this. I think a lot of books have been written on overcoming the consequences of similar crises. I would highlight two components. The first one is the political will of the leaderships of the respective countries. This is the most important element, without which the solution of such problems is impossible. The second one is persistent efforts to involve departments and civil society in each of the countries. Without this, such a goal, absolutely correct and long-awaited, cannot be achieved. But this does not exclude other components. As I see it, your question deserves be the topic of a doctoral dissertation. I tried to answer briefly.